European Union Defense Policy: An American Perspective

June 24, 2004 • Policy Analysis No. 516
By Leslie S. Lebl

For almost 50 years, proposals by the European Union to develop a common foreign and security policy for all member states failed. Since the late 1990s, however, the situation has changed. Despite, or perhaps because of, member states’ disagreements over Iraq, the EU probably will continue to develop common foreign and security policies, and the European Commission may begin to play a role in developing new European military capabilities.

In the military sphere, the EU may well improve its own operational and long‐​term defense planning and perhaps develop new joint capabilities. On the one hand, that will provide further impetus for EU military missions independent of NATO. On the other hand, the emergence of a common EU foreign and security policy will likely lead to an informal “EU caucus” in NATO, a dynamic that may grow with the dual enlargements of both NATO and the EU. Within 5 to 10 years, the question may be whether the EU will undertake a role as guarantor of European defense and how that will mesh, if at all, with NATO’s role.

If the United States is facing a fundamental shift in how the Europeans approach security and defense issues, how should U.S. policymakers react? In the larger picture, are they likely to perceive the EU as a partner, a troublesome obstacle, a potential “counterweight,” or an opponent? And what about our transatlantic security arrangements? For example, what impact would the proposed EU policies and capabilities have on NATO? What will be the impact of the enlarged membership of NATO and the EU on NATO’s response to those changes? How might EU capabilities affect the U.S. role in Europe, or our security interests elsewhere in the world?

NATO will have to change as the EU develops its common foreign and security policy; it will have to adjust to a growing EU military capability for conducting operations outside Europe. And, in 5 to 10 years, the EU may decide that it wants to assume responsibility for the defense of Europe. In that case, the United States should negotiate a new security relationship with Europe. Under the new treaty arrangements, the United States would be responsible for the territorial defense of the United States, and Europe for the territorial defense of Europe. Both could cooperate on out‐​of‐​area operations of common vital interest, using current NATO political structures and the NATO integrated command as a foundation for future cooperation.

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About the Author
Leslie S. Lebl is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer with particular expertise in European political and defense issues. Among her many assignments during a 24‐​year career, she served as minister‐​counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, and she had two tours as political adviser to the commander of stabilization forces (SFOR) in Bosnia‐​Herzegovina.